FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

Activity Map: Chemistry, Resources, and Faith

Overview

What's the Focus

How might chemistry connect with faith? This Activity Map uses several clusters of activities, many involving lab work, to introduce students to two different ways of making this connection. Some of the activities focus on the connection between chemistry and virtue: how might our use of resources in the chemistry lab, and our use of resources in the wider world as enabled by chemistry, relate to character qualities such as self-control?

Other activities suggest ways in which questions related to chemistry can nest within a larger set of questions. How is the idea of a closed system related to chemical reactions and equations? Can we think of the universe as a closed system? If so, is there room for God in such a universe?

This activity map uses chemistry topics to engage students in reflecting on the existence of multiple connections between faith and science. The science of chemical reactions is easily seen as an abstract area of knowledge, where letters and numbers are part of a puzzle that students simply write out, balance, and move on. But teaching FASTly involves exploring connections between scientific knowledge and our beliefs, commitments, and life choices, and thinking through what these connections might mean for our practices inside and outside the classroom. Here we explore a larger picture of where reflection on some of those chemical reactions might lead us.

It is not necessary to use every activity in your class. This activity map offers a range of possibilities to enrich your existing teaching resources. While some of the activities form a possible sequence, you can select the ones most suitable for your context and adapt them to connect to your own plan for learning.

Discover activities offer brief ways into the topic and are designed to set the stage and get students thinking.

Delve activities promote more extended learning. This is where the main substance of the lesson unfolds.

Debrief activities bring the sequence of the study to a thoughtful close by helping students reflect on how they have been invited to see science and faith anew.

You can mix and match these activities as you wish. It is not intended that all these activities should be used with the same class.

Quick Stop Lesson Plan

The best way to use this activity map is to explore all of the activities and see which ones fit in your particular teaching context. If you just need a quick way to explore the themes of the map, you can use the links below to preview and download a sampler of three activities selected from this activity map.

PreviewDownload Files

Discover Activities

Discover activities offer brief ways into the topic and are designed to set the stage and get students thinking.

  • Activity

    25 min

    Chemistry and Shalom

  • Activity

    15 min

    Chemical or Not?

Chemistry and Shalom

In Brief

This introductory activity guides students to consider what shalom is and how it may be related to studying chemistry.

Goals

Students will understand the concept of shalom and its four key relationships.

Students will understand how chemistry can be connected to shalom.

Thinking Ahead

This activity, which is similar to one used to make different connections in the Activity Map on Science, Technology, and Service aims to help students see learning about chemistry in a wider context by placing it within our relationships with God, creation, others, and ourselves. It engages students in thinking through how examples of applied science and technology relate to each of these relationships. To prepare you for discussion before teaching this activity, think through some examples of how chemistry and shalom relate. Some examples are given after question 2. Think about your regular teaching practices outside of this activity. How often to you encourage students to make connections between science, technology, and any of these relationships?

Relevant Book Review: Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society by Bruno Latour.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

Consider moving the desks or tables to form a circle or horseshoe for the whole class discussion. You will need projection capabilities and Chemistry and Shalom.

Teaching the Activity

Explain to students that they are going to be thinking about how chemistry relates to society and to faith by looking at the biblical concept of shalom. Begin by sharing the following quote from Nicholas Wolterstorff, provided as a slide in Chemistry and Shalom.

“In shalom each person enjoys justice.… Shalom goes beyond justice, however. Shalom incorporates right relationships in general, whether or not those are required by justice: right relationships to God, to one’s fellow human beings, to nature, and to oneself. The shalom community is not merely the just community but is the responsible community, in which God’s laws for our multifaceted existence are obeyed. It is more even than that. We may all have acted justly and responsibly, and yet shalom may be missing: for the community may be lacking delight … shalom incorporates delight in one’s relationships. To dwell in shalom is to find delight in living rightly before God, to find delight in living rightly in one’s physical surroundings, to find delight in living rightly with one’s fellow human beings, to find delight even in living rightly with oneself.” 1

Unless it is a very familiar term in your school community, ask students if they have heard the term “shalom” before and where they think it comes from. Explain that it is a Hebrew word that is often translated in the Bible as “peace” but involves more than absence of conflict. It is a term that evokes the way things ought to be, with everything in society standing in healthy relationship to everything else. Ask students to identify from the quotation which relationships are at stake in shalom (God, creation, neighbor, and self). Show the second slide and ask students to give examples for each relationship of how things can go wrong when the relationship is distorted or broken. An easy way to remember the four relationships is to have students point upward, downward, outward, and inward.

Next show the third slide, which adds chemistry to the picture. Explain that for the purpose of this activity we will be thinking about chemistry broadly, including not only basic chemistry, but also applied chemistry and technologies developed using chemistry. See the activity on Science and Technology for an introduction to these distinctions. Help students get an initial sense of how to make the connections by talking through the following example with them. Give students a chance to share their ideas.

Suppose a local water supply becomes contaminated with lead or with chemicals that have leaked from a nearby plant. How might this damage relationships in the affected community to:

  • Creation? People should be able to trust water, a basic natural resource that they need to survive. If it is compromised they are likely to become suspicious of, and anxious about, their natural environment, and they will need to make increased use of bottled water, which uses plastics and adds environmental impact.
  • Neighbor? People may well be left angry at their community leaders and business leaders for allowing the contamination to happen, or for not fixing it quickly enough. Those most affected may resent those who have easier access to alternative water supplies.
  • Self? Water contamination may leave people damaged in their own bodies and anxious about their health.
  • God? Some may be angry at God for what has happened to them; others may experience guilt before God for actions related to the contamination or for their inability to prevent the harm it causes.

How might chemistry be involved in this scenario? The initial contamination may involve chemicals that were developed by chemists. Identifying the problem so that people can be warned and protected will involve chemistry. Resolving and monitoring the problem will involve chemistry as well.

Ask for specific examples, not just a general yes or no. Give students a chance to share their ideas. Help students to see how the potential to do good or harm increases as we move from basic science concepts to their application and to the development of technologies. If time allows, have students work through an additional example in groups or as a whole class. Examples might include:

  • The use of pesticides for crops and the dangers of poisons building up in food and the environment.
  • The development and overuse of antibiotics.
  • The development of new materials that are cheaper and lighter but that do not biodegrade.

Encourage students to see the complexity of the issues. Often scientific and technological advances are accompanied by both positive and negative effects such as pesticides, which are useful for protecting crops and improving yield, but they can also cause other living things to suffer, degrade water supplies and poison humans. These actions do not honor God.

The goal in this activity is not to investigate any given issue in detail, but simply to introduce the idea that we can think about chemistry and the health of our key relationships as belonging together.

 

1Nicholas Wolterstorff, Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004, p.23. Used with permission.

Chemical or Not?

In Brief

This activity raises the question for students of what virtues have to do with chemistry, making their assumptions explicit as a basis for further learning.

Goals

Students will identify their assumptions about whether chemistry is connected to virtue.

Students will begin to reflect on how chemistry is connected to other aspects of life.

Thinking Ahead

This activity map begins with a step that aims at making students’ existing assumptions visible, opening the possibility of seeing chemistry in a new light. When our assumptions become visible to us, the possibility that change may happen is increased. Many students may have never considered whether knowledge of chemistry could be related to virtues.

This activity allows you to engage students in some initial reflection and also to walk around the classroom and get a quick visual overview of students’ assumptionswhich will help you to plan what to emphasize in future activities. Using the word cards, rather than having students write the words, allows students to try words in different places and move them around.

You may find it helpful to work through this activity yourself before class – use it to reflect on your own assumptions about what types of things relate to chemistry and how that might be reflected in your teaching practices and in the way you talk to students about why they should learn.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

For each pair of students copy a set of word cards Chemical or Not 1 and a template Chemical or Not 2. Either cut up the word cards and put them in an envelope for each pair or have students cut them up on receipt. Using an envelope will make it easier for students to keep the cards in case you wish to use Activity 8: Chemical or Not? Revisited.

Teaching the Activity

Have students work in pairs. Give each pair of students a set of word cards cut apart from Chemical or Not 1. Tell students to arrange the cards on the Chemical or Not 2 template so that words for things most closely connected to chemistry are toward the left and those least connected are to the right. Avoid debating with students what “closely connected” means. Tell them that any kind of connection is fine. The question is whether they think chemistry and the thing named strongly belong together in some way.

Once students have completed the activity, discuss the outcome briefly with the class. Ask students what groupings they see among the words that they sorted and what assumptions they made about which groupings have anything to do with science. Look for examples of things that only some students see as connected and ask them to explain the connection. Establish whether students already see much connection between chemistry and virtue, and let students know that they will continue to explore that connection in subsequent activities. Some of the groupings refer to scientific concepts, everyday objects, virtues and moral concerns, and non-scientific areas of study.

Ask students to photograph their sorted arrangement of cards for future reference. If you wish to use Activity 8: Chemical or Not? Revisited, ask students to keep the word cards and template for future use.

Delve Activities

Delve activities promote more extended learning. This is where the main substance of the lesson unfolds.

  • Activity

    60 min

    Labs and Scarcity

  • Activity

    60 min

    Labs, Scarcity, and Choices

  • Activity

    20 min

    What Is a Closed System?

  • Activity

    60 min

    Are Chemical Reactions Closed Systems?

  • Activity

    This activity occurs over multiple class periods

    Trash Day

Labs and Scarcity

In Brief

Students conduct a lab and then are asked to see it differently in terms of the resources used and the implications for how we think about chemistry and character. This activity can be used with any experiment you currently use.

Goals

Students will conduct a lab and analyze what resources were used.

Students will understand that design of lab work is related to ethical questions about how to use resources of various kinds and character.

Thinking Ahead

It is important to avoid the temptation to preach at students at the end of this activity. Attend both to what you say as you lead the final part of the discussion and the tone in which it is said. The goal here is not to catch students out or to try to make students feel bad about their resource use or lack of virtue, but to create space to reflect on how virtue might be relevant to scientific work.

Use “we” language, not “you” language, and ask questions in a tone of inquiry rather than pointing to individual behaviors. Remember the adult world is not a glowing model in this area. Think about how you can make your classroom a space for engaging students in ethical reflection without it turning into legalistic sermonizing.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • You will need whatever resources are necessary for the experiment you choose

  • To assess the activity, you can use the final slide of Chemistry and Shalom

Teaching the Activity

Conduct a chemistry lab that forms part of your standard curriculum.

After the experiment is completed, ask students to make a list of all the resources they used to complete the experiment. After giving them a few minutes to do this, discuss these lists with the class, and guide a conversation using the following questions:

  • Did you include all of the obvious chemical resources, including reactants?
  • Did you think to include the power used for the experiment including heating and lighting the room and any resources used to generate that power?
  • Did you include any water used to clean apparatus after the experiment?
  • Did you include any paper and writing tools used to record results?
  • Did you think to list everyone’s time as a resource used?

Briefly draw students’ attention to the fact that all of these are finite resources that have been used up and ask:

  • What difference would it make, in other words, what would be lost if we did the experiment in a way that took four times as long and went through lunch break?
  • Or used a hundred gallons of water?
  • Or used ten times as much power?
  • What motivations might we have for controlling the amount of resources used?
  • How might those motivations and the choices they lead to relate to love of God and neighbor and care for creation?

Finally, ask students:

  • What knowledge and understanding helps us to be able to control the amount of resources used in an experiment?
  • What kind of character qualities will play a role in how successful we are in controlling the quantity of resources? How are carelessness, self-control, consideration for others relevant?
  • What might motivate us to seek those character qualities? How can we grow in them?

To test understanding, you can display the final slide from Chemistry and Shalom and ask students to write a brief explanation of how choices about the design of lab work can be connected to our relationships to God, creation, neighbor, and self.

Labs, Scarcity, and Choices

In Brief

This activity engages students in working with limited resources during lab work and exploring the connections between choices of resources and character.

Goals

Students will conduct a lab and analyze what resources were used.

Students will understand that the way lab work is conducted can be related to character and to Christian virtues.

Thinking Ahead

Self-control seems intentional, but the way we consume goods is often rooted in unreflective choices and behaviors. This activity promotes being mindful about resource use, but also goes beyond just thinking more about resource use. None of us spend the whole day consciously thinking through each action we take. Our formation matters, and formation and science are connected. Growing in virtues, that is, stable character qualities that can guide our actions even when we are not thinking about it, offers another approach to behaving wisely with limited resources.

Bear in mind that the intent is not to communicate that it is always the right action to minimize use of a resource, because there are times when being lavish is appropriate, but rather to help students to see connections between resource use, caring for others, and self-control. Think about what opportunities you might have in future lessons and through your everyday teaching practices to gently reinforce awareness of these connections.

Related Book Review: Song of a Scientist by Calvin B. DeWitt and After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N.T. Wright.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

Select a lab activity you typically conduct early in the school year that calls for the use of relatively inexpensive consumable materials. An example might be a lab comparing and contrasting physical and chemical properties that has students combine vinegar and baking soda, or red cabbage juice and ammonia, or a lab analyzing mixtures that requires the separating of salt and sand from water.

Modify your lab handout to instruct students to pour materials into an intermediate vessel before going back to their lab table and measuring the quantities specified in the lab, and to dispose of the excess material after they complete their measurements.

When putting out the supplies, purposefully put out only the exact amount that would be needed by all groups, or potentially even less, so that by the time the last group comes to gather their materials there won’t be enough. Plan for the lab to take longer than normal and use the questions below to facilitate discussion during and/or after the lab.

Teaching the Activity

If students have not already been instructed in proper lab procedures concerning use of materials, be sure to clearly communicate that once substances have been poured out of their original containers, they should not be put back in. All excess material will need to be disposed of.

Set up your lab activity as usual with the modification of the lab handout and the restriction of materials described above. Allow students to begin working on their own and wait for their materials to run out. 

When a group realizes they will be unable to complete the activities, have all groups come to a pause and begin the discussion with the following questions:

  • How did you decide how much of the substances to take?
  • Did you do any quick calculations in your head? Did you think about it much or was it an unconscious choice?
  • What assumptions did you make about how much of each substance was available?
  • Did you assume there was more than enough for everyone?
  • What are the results of different groups taking different amounts?
    • If some groups took far more than necessary … other groups would have none and material would be wasted.
    • If some groups took closer to the needed amount … other groups would be able to complete the activity and less would be wasted.
  • How does the quantity you took affect the whole class?
  • What would it take to minimize the amount of material wasted?

Steer students toward considering how as individuals and groups they operate as part of a whole. Their actions impact others, while the actions of others have an impact on them that may be out of their control. Point them toward what is in their control, which is their own awareness of their own consumption.

Ask students to talk in groups and then record brief written responses to the following questions. Present each question individually, having students complete reflection and recording for each question before moving on to the next.

  1. Does how much of each material you took say anything about your character?
    • Students may see their actions of taking excess materials as just following instructions. Ask them to think about how being more critical of tasks they perform, and their consequences, might connect to self-control.
  2. How might this small exercise relate to larger questions about our use of resources on earth? Can you see any parallels?
  3. Can you think of areas of your life where you are very aware of how much you consume and have a lot of self-control? Can you think of any areas where you are less careful?
    • For example, students may spend a lot money on clothes, but follow a very strict diet, or save gas but waste water.
  4. Can thinking more about all our choices solve the problem? To what degree can we think carefully about every choice we make each day?

Finally, ask the class how they would define the concept of virtue. Elicit that a virtue is a character quality that becomes ingrained through practice so that it comes to guide our actions spontaneously, even when we are not thinking about it. Hand out copies of the List of Virtues and ask students to read the definitions and then identify which of the virtues listed at the bottom of the sheet might affect how we go about lab work in any way.

Challenge students to be concrete and specific in pointing to behaviors that could be affected or demonstrate growth in a virtue. To avoid lapsing into a moralizing or judgmental tone, frame this as a challenge for everyone, including yourself. Make explicit to students that a focus on the virtues that are evident in lab work, and on our formation, is one of the various ways that faith and science can be connected.

If there is time, have students finish the lab activity, providing additional resources as needed. If not, continue the lab the following day. Use this as a recurring theme when conducting lab work. Ask students to reflect on the virtues implicit in their actions and their use of materials during lab activities throughout the year.

What Is a Closed System?

In Brief

This activity engages students in learning about the concept of a closed system in the context of a laboratory experiment and helps them see how this concept might be related to larger questions about the nature of God and the universe.

Goals

Students will understand the concept of a closed system.

Students will understand that the concept of a closed system is related both to experimental work and to larger questions about the nature of God and the universe.

Thinking Ahead

This activity introduces the concept of a closed system, which will be developed further in Activity 6: Are Chemical Reactions Closed Systems? and Activity 7: Trash Day. It will help you to guide students through these activities if you have reflected on how the concept can affect the details of how we work on chemical reactions and also the larger question of how we see the universe.

It will be important in this sequence of activities both to help students make these conceptual connections, and to help them see the limits of the concept. A system that is closed in terms of exchange of particular matter need not be closed in other respects, and the concept may not apply to other aspects of reality such as love, where the giving of love from one to another does not mean that the giver has less love left. Use these activities to reflect on how often you help students connect science concepts to a larger context that makes space for reflection on faith.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Show the first slide from What Is a Closed System? Ask students to imagine that researchers interested in food metabolism performed the following experiment: They placed a rat inside a transparent container and then tightly sealed the container so that no material could pass in or out of the container. Before tightly sealing the container, along with the rat, the researchers placed enough water, food, oxygen, and carbon dioxide absorbing component (LiOH) to last several days.

The researchers fed the rat a “cafeteria diet,” that is, a diet rich in fat and carbohydrates. Lots of calories! Ask students to suggest the composition of the diet these rats were living on, for example junk foods like donuts, French fries, Oreos, and candy bars. The entire system, which included the rat, its container, and everything inside its container, was weighed at the start of the experiment. Several days went by, the rat lived on, and then the entire system was reweighed.

Next, show slide 2 and ask students to predict the outcome of the experiment in terms of the weight of the container. Did it increase, decrease, or stay the same? Why might we expect any of these outcomes? After some initial suggestions move to the next slide and ask students to choose between the three explanations offered and explain why they chose it. Allowing a brief time for discussion with a partner could be helpful at this point in the process; students can then share their answers with the whole class.

Important questions may surface or be brought forward by the teacher, as students discuss the experiment. Students may wonder if anything can pass into or out of the container and what effect(s) this might have. Students may wonder about the effects of the diet on the rat by saying things such as, “So, if the rat is hungry and eats food, it should gain weight, right? Lots of weight given the junk food it’s eating!” Similarly, they may think about how they try to lose weight through exercise and may say things like, “Won’t the system lose weight as the rat exercises and uses up calories?” 

Eventually it is important to reinforce what can really pass into and out of the container and what cannot and the effects of these possibilities. For example, could light pass into the container? Answer: Of course. The container walls, like glass, are transparent, so light can pass through from outside to inside or vice versa. But what effect would this have on mass? Is light thought to have mass? Relatedly, heat (thermal energy) can also pass in and out of the container. If the surroundings are warmer than the container, thermal energy will flow from the hotter surroundings to the colder container. Similarly, since the rat has a body temperature higher than the surroundings, thermal energy will transfer from the rat to the surroundings.

Again, is this sort of change likely to impact the overall mass of the container? Ultimately, an important point to bring forward is the particulate nature of matter which the chemist uses to model the material world. Whether heat or light is passing into or out of the container is irrelevant with regard to changes in the mass of the container and contents because energy, such as light or heat, is not a thing (particulate) and does not have mass. However, material things, like the rat, the container, and the oxygen gas the rat is inhaling, are modeled as particulate in nature. 

If students need a reminder, you could briefly discuss at this point that chemists, and all scientists, model matter as made up of tiny, indestructible particles called atoms. Notably, particles are thought to have mass. If you add particles to something, its mass will increase, and if you take particles away, the mass will decrease. If you weigh a gas tank filled with propane gas before using it in your barbecue grill, it will weigh more than when you weigh it again after you have used gas to grill hamburgers.

Students can now use the particle model to firm up the correct answer to the rat scenario. At the same time, the teacher can reinforce the idea of a closed system and its implications. As the rat lived on in this scenario, no particles were allowed into the container and no particles exited the container. Yes, particles are thought to have mass, but if no particles were added or lost, then one would expect the overall mass of the rat and its container to be constant over time. For instance, the rat ate food and grew in mass, but the particles making up the now chubbier rat were already present in the container in the form of the food. 

The main point to lead students to is this: in this situation chemists would say that the rat and its container are a closed system. A closed system refers to a condition in which nothing in a material sense can go in or out. The entire system weighed the same before and after because all of the particles there at the beginning were also there at the end. You can use the following questions to check student understanding of this concept:

  • What is meant by a closed system?
  • What is meant by the particle model? What does it mean to say that “matter is made of particles”?
  • Is light made of particles? 
  • Is heat made of particles?
  • Is a rat made of particles?
  • Is the container made of particles?
  • Is a donut made of particles?
  • If no chemist has ever seen an atom, even with the most powerful microscope, does this mean it is bad science to refer to matter as made of atoms? Why or why not?
  • If a light was shone on the container and the container warmed, would the system weigh more, less, or about the same? Why?
  • Is the “rat container” a closed system with regard to oxygen? Why or why not?
  • Is the “rat container” a closed system with regard to heat? Why or why not?
  • Is the “rat container” a closed system with regard to the carbon atoms in the food the rat is eating? Why or why not?
  • Why do we have to ask if the container was a closed system “with regard to” various different things?

Finally, introduce an idea that students will continue to explore in the next two activities.

  • Is it reasonable to think of our entire universe as a closed system as in the case of the rat container? 
  • Is God’s relationship to the universe like or unlike the relationship of the scientists to the contents of the container? There is no need for a long discussion at this point, but you can point out to students that the scientist/rat relationship in this experiment resembles deism, a view of the world that sees God as outside the system he set in motion and not intervening in its processes. This does not mirror Christian theism, in which God interacts with and within the universe. Compare this activity to Miracles versus Natural Processes? in the Activity Map on Newton’s Laws.

Are Chemical Reactions Closed Systems?

In Brief

This activity engages students in lab work to help them connect the idea of a closed system to analysis of chemical reactions. It also raises the question of whether the concept of a closed system is a helpful model for thinking about other aspects of reality, such as love.

Goals

Students will understand how the concept of a closed system is related to chemical reactions.

Students will understand that the concept of a closed system does not work well when thinking about non-material aspects of reality, such as love.

Thinking Ahead

This activity further develops the concept of a closed system, which was introduced in Activity 5: What Is a Closed System? and is used in a new context in Activity 7: Trash Day. While some of the earlier activities in this Activity Map focused on virtue as a way of relating faith and the practice of science, this activity focuses on helping students see connections and think about how learning about science relates to big questions about the nature of reality.

When these larger questions arise with your students, be wary of moving too quickly to assert answers. Instead raise questions and allow space for students to wrestle with them and think their way through to conclusions. Consider how your classroom teaching practices can support and reward careful, thoughtful reflection on faith and science questions.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

This activity follows from Activity 5: What Is a Closed System? Begin with a review and extension of the particle model. Tell or remind students:

In the particle model of matter, individual atoms can be bound tightly to other atoms to form molecules. For example, water molecules are made up of two hydrogen atoms bound to one oxygen atom. In symbols, this is written as H20, in which the “H” represents a hydrogen atom, and the “O” represents an oxygen atom. The small “2” after the “H” indicates that there are two hydrogen atoms in the molecule. H20 is said to represent the chemical formula for water because it tells us exactly what atoms we would need if we wanted to make a molecule of water.

A chemical change, or a chemical reaction, is said to have occurred whenever atoms are rearranged to form new or different molecules. This can happen if two atoms bond together to form a new molecule; if atoms attach to a pre-existing molecule; if a molecule loses some of its atoms; or if some of the atoms in a molecule are replaced by other atoms. Chemists can symbolically represent chemical reactions by writing a chemical equation. The chemical equation for cellular respiration, which every cell uses to obtain energy, is shown below and on slide 1 of Are Chemical Reactions Closed Systems?

C6H12O2           +           8 O2           ——>           6 CO2           +           6 H2O

Glucose                  Oxygen gas                        Carbon dioxide            Water

A chemical equation lists all the substances reacting, called reactants, and all the new substances formed, called products. The reactants appear on the left side of the equation, and the products appear on the right side. An arrow points from the reactants to the products. In Activity 5: What Is a Closed System? a chemical reaction occurred when the rat digested food or when the rat used energy to run on the exercise wheel.

Tell students that they will investigate further what it means for chemical reactions to occur in a closed system. Hand out copies of Are Chemical Reactions Closed Systems? and either have students work in groups to complete the lab activity detailed there, or do it as a teacher demonstration as students follow along. This activity involves a common reaction between baking soda and vinegar.

Next, display slide 2 of Are Chemical Reactions Closed Systems? Explain that this is the chemical reaction that occurs when baking soda and vinegar mix:

NaHCO3       +           HC2H3O       —->    NaC2H3O      +     H2O     +     CO2

baking soda   acetic acid in vinegar     sodium acetate     water       carbon dioxide

Explain some of the substances in this reaction:

  • Baking soda is written as NaHCO3, in which”Na” stands for an atom of sodium and “C” stands for an atom of carbon. Students should already be familiar with the particles represented by “H” and “O.” Notice that in one unit of baking soda, there is 1 sodium (Na) atom, 1 hydrogen atom (H), 1 carbon (C) atom, and 3 oxygen (O) atoms.
  • Vinegar is a mixture of more than one substance. While this mixture contains mainly water, it is the presence of a substance called acetic acid (HC2H3O2) that reacts with baking soda. The chemical formula for acetic acid is HC2H3O2. In the formula for acetic acid “H” is listed twice, so there are actually a total of four hydrogen atoms in every molecule of acetic acid. Chemists list hydrogen twice in this formula in order to convey how atoms are directly connected together. You do not have to be concerned with this minor detail.
  • Sodium acetate (NaC2H3O2) is made up of one atom of sodium, two carbon atoms, three hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms.

Tell students that the next activities will allow them to investigate the reaction between baking soda and vinegar in detail in order to better ascertain what is meant by a closed system.

Hand out copies of Are Chemical Reactions Closed Systems? 2 and have students work in groups to complete the lab activities detailed there. These activities will allow students to investigate the baking soda and vinegar reaction in more detail.

When the lab is complete, return to the reaction thought to occur between baking soda and vinegar. See presentation slide 2:

NaHCO3       +           HC2H3O       —->    NaC2H3O      +     H2O     +     CO2

baking soda   acetic acid in vinegar     sodium acetate     water       carbon dioxide

To make the steps more visible to students,stand at the front of the class and use unifix cubes or some sort of concrete object to build each “player” in the reaction above. Keep track of what you use to symbolize sodium atoms (Na) and carbon atoms (C), and so on. Alternatively, use slide 3 of Are Chemical Reactions Closed Systems? which also offers a visual representation.

Have students count the different atoms listed on the right-hand side of the equation versus the left-hand side. Have them note that there are exactly the same number and kind of atoms on each side. Why should this be the case? What does this have to do with a closed system?

In chemistry we model chemical reactions as closed systems. The atoms we have at the beginning, we also have at the end. Remind students that a closed system is a system in which nothing is thought to go in or out. The transformation that takes place is that the atoms have rearranged to now be combined chemically in new ways. However, all particles are thought to be conserved overall. At times chemical reactions can be reversed to recreate the original reactants, but at other times this is so difficult to bring about that we act as if this cannot happen. We call these sorts of reactions irreversible. The carbon dioxide and baking soda reaction is deemed essentially irreversible. If you wanted acetic acid again, you could not reform it from the products obtained in the reaction above. You would have to find a new supply of acetic acid that has never participated in this sort of reaction.

Finally, return to the question reflected on at the end of Activity 5: What Is a Closed System? We model all chemical reactions as reactions in which atoms are conserved. We could “magnify” this perspective and imagine all chemical reactions together as operating in one big system, i.e. the universe. In this case we imagine atoms are conserved overall as well. Thus, we could say that the universe as a whole is a closed system.

  • Does this mean God cannot act in the universe? Remind students about the “closed system with regard to….”
  • Does the question of closed systems change if we are not thinking about particles?
  • Is love between people best modeled as a closed system? 

People sometimes act as if love operates like a closed system. ”I love you only when you give me some love back. I will be jealous if you show care to others because it should have come to me.” In this picture there is only so much love to go around, giving love means there is less love remaining, and loving should be offered carefully so as to ensure you are loved in return. But does loving one parent mean you have to love another parent or sibling less?

This construct treats love as if it is operating in a closed system, like the closed system of particulate matter.

  • Is this a good model for the kind of love that Christ shows and calls people to?
  • If we are called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, how can there be some left over to love our neighbor?
  • Is a closed system a good model for thinking about all aspects of reality?

Trash Day

In Brief

Students analyze the trash from a class party and consider how trash accumulation relates to the idea of a closed system. They also step back to reflect on ways of connecting faith and science through virtues and truth questions.

Goals

Students will understand how the concept of a closed system relates to trash accumulation.

Students will understand that faith can be related to science through both virtues and reflection on big questions.

Thinking Ahead

This practical activity focuses on trash accumulation. Be careful not to create a tone of accusation or guilt. Be willing to share your own approach to trash with your students. Being open and honest will go a long way in modeling how to respond honestly and with hope rather than with guilt or apathy. The activity pulls together several larger themes, so it will be important that you have thought about these ahead of time and also about how to help students see the connections.

First, the activity takes the scientific and philosophical questions about closed systems from Activity 5: What Is a Closed System? and Activity 6: Are Chemical Reactions Closed Systems? and connects them to students’ experience and behavioral choices. How do the ideas previously discussed about closed systems and chemical reactions relate to how we use resources?

Second, the activity invites students to consider two kinds of connections between faith and science that have been evoked in previous activities in this Activity Map, connections related to virtue and truth. On the one hand, what kind of people are we called to be in terms of how we use resources? On the other hand, what questions about God and the universe might be raised through the idea of the universe as a closed system? Consider how these two approaches to teaching FASTly relate: would either on its own be enough or do we need to think in terms of multiple connections between faith and science? Do your own teaching practices lean toward one kind of connection?

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Materials needed for a class party

  • One or two garbage bags

  • Topically appropriate video

Teaching the Activity

Activity 5: What Is a Closed System? and Activity 6: Are Chemical Reactions Closed Systems? have explored the idea of a closed system. Briefly review with students that chemists operate as if there is only so much matter—so many particles—in the universe. These particles can be rearranged via chemical transformations, but the overall number and identity of all atoms is assumed to remain constant. A next step is to imagine a host of implications related to the idea of the universe as a closed system. Tell students that they will consider the implications using a study of trash.

Plan a classroom “party” where students bring in food and the teacher provides the beverages such as bottled water or sports drinks. While students eat, you can watch a video or YouTube excerpt regarding trash and where it goes. See National Geographic’s Human Footprint, Scene 14, titled, “Consumption of Natural Resources.”

At the end of the class, without telling the students your plan, collect all the trash in one or two garbage bags. Just collect the trash and set it aside for analysis tomorrow.

The next day remind students of the prior day’s activity and ask where they think the trash created at the party went. Then ask what happens to trash. Reveal to students that their trash was kept from yesterday’s party, and today they will be analyzing it. You can ask, “How might we determine how much total trash we created?” Through questioning, lead students to assess the volume of the bags and also their weight.

Then have students spread out a thick plastic tarp and spread out all the trash from the activity on the tarp.

Through questioning, raise issues regarding:

  • How might we determine what percent of this trash is reusable?
  • How might we determine what percent of the remaining trash is recyclable?
  • How might we determine what percent of the remaining trash could be composted?
  • How might we determine what percent of the remaining trash could be burned to produce electricity?
  • What percent of the original trash would need to go to a landfill?
  • If we celebrated each of our birthdays the way we did yesterday, how much trash would be added to the community landfill? 
  • If every person in our high school were treated to a birthday celebration in this same way, how much would the school add to our local landfill for these celebrations? Compare this volume to the volume occupied by the school gymnasium.

If you have a school or private compost, you can ask, “Where does the material in the compost go?”  You can also connect to incineration as a means of garbage disposal. ”Where does the material that is burned go?” These questions get at the idea that the amount of matter overall, even though it is in different forms, is treated as if it is constant, a closed system. This reinforces the macroscopic properties of trash accumulation and recycling and consequences of the universe being a closed system. Other implications can be brought to the fore as well, such as fossil fuels in limited supply, fuel shortages, energy crises, food shortages, nutrient depletion in overused soils, and sustainability.

Finally, broaden the scope and discuss the following questions:

  • Would it be reasonable to pray that God would remove the trash and make it disappear? Why? Why not? Does God typically override natural processes? If God generally works within natural processes, does that mean God is not active in the world?
  • What challenges and responsibilities arise for us in relation to trash if trash is part of a closed system?
  • How do our actions influence the way the closed system works? What happens to others and to the world if we turn more or fewer resources into non-compostable trash?
  • How could our choices and actions be one way that God works in the world?

Optional Extra

If you have used multiple activities from this Activity Map, students will have encountered two approaches to relating faith and science, one that focuses more on virtues in relation to science, and one that focuses on truth and raising big questions about God and the world that relate to science. These reflections on trash disposal offer an opportunity to explicitly draw these strands together. Point out that you are examining two kinds of connections: one is thinking about the kind of people God calls us to be and how that relates to what we learn from, and do with, science; the other is thinking about the big questions that arise at the intersection of science and faith. Ask: is either of these ways of making the connection, virtues without reflection or thinking without virtue, enough on its own? Why might each, or both together, be important?

(This lesson was modified from suggestions provided by Dr. Michael Clough, Science Educator, Iowa State University.)

Debrief Activities

Debrief activities bring the sequence of the study to a thoughtful close by helping students reflect on how they have been invited to see science and faith anew.

  • Activity

    15 min

    Chemical or Not? Revisited

  • Activity

    40 min

    Chemistry FASTly Review

Chemical or Not? Revisited

In Brief

This repeats the initial activity to allow students to see whether their assumptions have shifted during their work on the activity map.

Thinking Ahead

This revisits Activity 2: Chemical or Not? which focused on making students’ existing assumptions visible. Here it offers an opportunity for both you and the students to see whether anything has shifted in how chemistry is seen.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

For each pair of students you will need a set of word cards Chemical or Not 1 and a template Chemical or Not 2. These may be reused from Activity 2: Chemical or Not?.

Teaching the Activity

Tell students that the following activity is not a test, but an opportunity to reflect again on the shape of their own thinking about chemistry. Emphasize that the point is not to now offer the right answer, but to reflect on whether anything in their thinking has changed over the preceding activities.

Have students work in pairs to arrange the cards cut apart from Chemical or Not 1 onto the Chemical or Not 2 template so that the words for things most closely connected to chemistry are toward the left and those least connected are to the right.

Once students have completed the activity, discuss the outcome briefly with the class. Ask students whether they see any changes in the assumptions they made about which groupings have anything to do with science. Conclude by asking students to write a paragraph or two explaining their current understanding of how chemistry is connected to character and to society. You can use this piece of writing to assess students’ ability to make these connections.

Chemistry FASTly Review

In Brief

This review activity is appropriate for the end of a semester or a longer teaching sequence. It provides a communal way of reviewing material that creates interactions between students, invites students to consider the contribution of others to their learning, and reviews the connections between chemistry, character, and shalom.

Goals

Students will review their work in chemistry with an intentional focus on supporting and learning from others.

Students will review the connections between chemistry, virtue, and shalom.

Thinking Ahead

This activity, which is a different version than the first, is also used in the Activity Map on Labs and Community, has the potential to engage students for an extended time with minimal teacher intervention. Consider how you can use your freed up time to listen in and diagnose areas of weakness, target particular learners for support, and offer positive feedback when students are working well together. Crouching by working pairs of students and offering help or feedback at eye level can create a stronger sense of solidarity and support. Such supportive behaviors on your part can model and reinforce the message of the activity: that each member of the community is valued and can contribute to the whole and that we can gratefully receive from others as we learn.

If you have been engaging students in reflection on the connection between chemistry, character, faith, and shalom through preceding activities, include each of these elements in a review session to help communicate that the connection to character and faith is not seen as an inessential aside. Teaching FASTly will be most effective if it engages all phases of learning.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

You will need: Assorted brief review sheets each containing a set of questions to be reviewed. Break the information for review down into a small amount for each sheet, enough for no more than five minutes of review, using a variety of sheets to cover the whole of the material. Also include the sheets provided in Chemistry FASTly review. These give an indication of the intended format of the review sheets.

For this activity to work well you will need a classroom with movable furniture where it is possible to create two large concentric circles of chairs, forming a circle of facing pairs. The activity can also work with double rows of chairs facing each other. See this alternative version. Arrange the seating before the class begins to avoid chaos, wasted time, and a distracting start to class. If you have an odd number of students make one of the pairs into a group of three. Place one cue sheet on each seat along the inner circle so that each pair of seats has a different review prompt sheet with different topics and questions.

Teaching the Activity

Tell students that they are going to work at reviewing what they have learned, and are going to do so collaboratively, in a way that seeks to support one another. Once students are seated facing a partner, make sure that each pair has a review sheet. Give a different sheet for each pair, or, if you have too many pairs, give copies of the same sheet to two pairs who are on opposite sides of the circle.

Be sure the sheets from Chemistry FASTly Review are interspersed around the circle between the chemistry review sheets that you have created. Give the pairs five minutes to work through reviewing the questions on their sheet. Encourage them to check in with you to clarify areas of uncertainty. If you are able to use a circle layout, you can be easily accessed in the center. Students should not write on the sheets themselves.

After five minutes have the students in the outer circle move one place to the left. The review sheets remain with the students in the inner circle, who do not move.

Repeat the five minutes of review. This time each pair contains an “expert” who has already reviewed and clarified the material and a “learner” who is reviewing these questions for the first time. Make clear that the expert’s role is to make sure that the learner understands the material.

After five minutes have the students in the inner circle move one place to the left, leaving the cue sheet behind them for the next student. Now the student in the outer circle is the “expert” who is repeating the topic. Continue to alternate which circle rotations, and each topic will be reviewed twice while students alternate between expert and learner roles.

Continue the rotations for as long as needed. The continuing change of partners and topics sustains engagement since no single conversation lasts long enough to devolve into inactivity. Be sure to keep the time allotments tight and the rotations brisk to sustain a sense of pace.

At the end, make time for a brief discussion about what was gained by reviewing with a variety of different people as compared to reviewing alone or with a favorite partner. How did a regular change of partner help? Did students learn anything from someone with whom they would not normally interact? How can we focus on strengthening each others’ learning rather than just our own achievement? Allow for brief expressions of thankfulness through quiet reflection or journaling for what was received from others.

Alternate layout: if the shape of the classroom does not allow for large circles, essentially the same effect can be achieved using double rows of chairs facing each other. When one row moves to the left, the person at the left end of the row moves to the right end of the row to maintain the rotation.